I'm grateful for Allen Stairs' response to question 5821, but he, like Richard Heck and Stephen Maitzen when answering question 5792, ASSUMES that words like "all" have the same meaning in everyday English as they have when used by logicians. That's what seems very strange to me. At least, everyday "all" is ambiguous. Professors Stairs, Heck and Maitzen believe that "all the strawberries he has" always means "all the strawberries he may have", and never "all the strawberries he does have". But look at the latter example ("does have"): you're still using the word "all", but here it is clearly said that he has some strawberries. Why can't that happen (in the right context) with "all the strawberries he has"? By the way, in several Romance languages, there is a difference between (e.g., in Portuguese) "todos os morangos que tem" (indicative) and "todos os morangos que tenha" (subjunctive). Both can be translated as "all the strawberries s/he has", but the first sentence indicates that he (or she) does have...

Thanks for your thanks. I'm not sure whether we really disagree. The point of my post is that we can go different ways here, but there are costs and benefits. To repeat my last paragraph, "There are approaches to logic that find ways around this sort of thing. But the carpet will have to bulge somewhere. Either the rules of inference will be a bit more complicated or we'll have to give up principles that seem appealing or we'll end up with some cases of "correct" inferences that seem peculiar. Different people will see the costs and benefits differently. My own view, which would not win me friends in certain circles, is that there's nothing deeply deep here. But not everyone agrees." Your concern is about what words like "all" really mean in English, and in particular about whether "all the strawberries he has" actually entails that he has at least one strawberry. Perhaps it does, but I'm not sure this is a question that has a uniquely correct answer. One linguistic approach is to distinguish...

I'm still puzzled by the answers to question 5792, on whether it is true that Mary won all the games of chess she played, when Mary never played any game of chess. Both respondents said that it is true. But is it meaningful to say "I won all the games I played, and I never played any game."? It seems to me that someone saying this would be contradicting himself.

I think you're right to at least this extent. If I say to someone "I won all the games of chess I played," the normal rules of conversation (in particular, the "pragmatics" of speech) make it reasonable for the other person to infer that I have actually played at least one game. Whether my statement literally implies this, however, is trickier. Think about statements of the form "All P are Q." Although it may take a bit of reflection to see it, this seems to be equivalent to saying that nothing is simultaneously a P and a non-Q. We can labor the point a bit further by turning to something closer to the lingo of logic: there does not exist an x such that x is a P and also a non-Q. For example: all dogs are mammals. That is, there does not exist a dog that is a non-mammal. Now go back go the games. If Mary says "All games I played are games I won," then by the little exercise we just went through, this becomes "There does not exist a game that I played and lost." But if Mary played no games at all,...

Why are counterfactual claims taken seriously by philosophers? Aren't they just an imaginative way of thinking and talking? For example, why is a counterfactual of the form "If it had been the case that A, then it would be the case that C" supposed to have truth conditions? For if causal determinism is true, then there is a complete specification W of the history of world w in which A would occur such that W entails either the truth of C or the falsity of C, making the counterfactual either vacuously true or a contradiction (and this is so for all possible deterministic worlds which include A); whereas if causal determinism is not true, then the history of w cannot be fully specified because A depends on non-deterministic processes, and the truth or falsity of the counterfactual is not determined. And for a non-deterministic world of which the history is fully specified (i.e. W includes the outcomes of non-deterministic processes) in which A occurs, the vacuous/contradictory result again obtains. ...

The most obvious reason why counterfactual talk is taken seriously by philosophers is that it's virtually impossible to avoid it. We constantly find ourselves asking -- for good reason -- what would happen in certain circumstances, and so understanding more deeply what that sort of talk might amount to seems to be a reasonable project. You offer a dilemma. We consider a counterfactual "If A were the case, then C would be the case." You then give us a choice between determinism and indeterminism. So suppose determinism is true. Then even if 'A' is false as things are, the deterministic story you're imagining can still be applied in a hypothetical case in which A is true. After all, we do that sort of thing all the time when we solve physics problems! If the result of applying the theory is that C also turns out to be true, then it's true as things actually are that if 'A' were true, 'C' would be true as well. Why is that vacuous? It's certainly not trivial; otherwise physics itself would be...

Isn't racist to find the word "nigger" racist? As in when it's merely said around you and not directed towards you. When someone calls another an "asshole," there isn't a normally a particular ethnicity that comes to mind -- yet The "N" Word is automatically associated with people of African descent. This all seems to fit into the ideology of race making racism possible.

I'll have to admit that I'm having a bit of trouble following you. In the sorts of cases that matter for this discussion, the "N" word is a slur. It's also a slur that, unlike "asshole," has a racial meaning. It's belittling someone because of their race. I think we agree on all that. The reason the "N" word brings "a particular ethnicity" to mind is because of what the word means; no mystery there. You write "yet the 'N' word is automatically associated with people of African descent" as though this was somehow puzzling or in need of explanation, but there's no puzzle that I can see. Close enough for present purposes, a racist is someone who has a negative view of some people simply because of their race or who mistreats people on account of their race. Seems pretty clear that that's bad; also seems pretty clear that there are plenty of people like that. Using a racial epithet like the "N" word is stereotypically racist behavior, and I can't see why that should seem puzzling. So what's left is...

Does complex and conventional language hamper the growth of true understanding in philosophy?

On one way of understanding your question, the answer seems not just to be "No," but "Hell no!" What I mean is this: the discipline of philosophy isn't a mystical practice. Among its most important techniques are careful analysis and well-reasoned argument. The kind of thinking philosophers pursue needs to be embodied in a rich and subtle language. And on one meaning of "conventional" -- i.e., based on shared conventions and meanings -- we would be unable to communicate successfully without the conventions of language. Now for a couple of caveats. Good philosophical ideas might come by any number of routes, including sudden bursts of insight. But the discipline of philosophy calls for shaping and articulating those insights. And if by "complex language," you mean bad, bloated writing, then indeed that can get in the way of understanding. But this goes for any discipline; not just for philosophy. So yes: philosophers sometimes smother their ideas in a blur of verbiage. But good philosophy...

Apologies if this has been asked before, but I would like to inquire as to whether or not the application of the word "metaphysics" to New Age studies is in actuality inappropriate and inaccurate. Many New Agers tend to enjoy labeling things such as "energy healing" or "the metaphysical properties of stones" (i.e. helping you sleep, grounding, clarity, etc) as metaphysics when most of them probably have never even read Aristotle's metaphysics, much less ever heard of it. Certainly, Aristotle's book would not be found in the metaphysical section! So, I ask: is interpreting the prefix "meta" in "metaphysics" as "beyond" in a literal sense (as in non-physical) grossly inaccurate? Should New Agers find another word to describe their studies?

The word "metaphysics" wasn't actually used by Aristotle, but was a label applied later to a set of writing that seemed to come "after" rather than "beyond" in some reasonable ordering of topics. What we philosophers call "metaphysics" these days covers a broad swath of territory and includes a variety of questions about the nature of things (What is causation? Is everything physical? Is there such a thing as free will?…) Some of the claims made by New Age thinkers would count as metaphysical by any reasonable accounting (for example: the idea that there is a non-physical "astral plane" or that matter is created by mind.) The belief that certain kinds of stones have healing properties, on the other hand, seems straightforwardly empirical and testable; not metaphysical in any obvious sense. The main complaint philosophers have with New Age "metaphysical" claims is that they aren't subjected to analysis and critical assessment. They seem mostly based on traditions in need of evaluation or uncritical...

How can phrases mean things their words don't appear to mean? For example, if I'm eating a salad, my friend asks how it is, and I say "not bad," the words "not bad" seem to be extremely open - the salad could be amazing, it could be okay, it could be great or it could be totally neutral; it might even be horrible, so long as it isn't "bad." However, I would normally be understood as saying the salad was okay, rather than any of the other logically plausible alternatives. How does that work?

I fear the answer will disappoint. "Not bad," in the kind of context you describe, means the same as "okay" because we use the words "not bad" in contexts like that to mean "okay." How we came to use those words that way is something that may be lost in unrecorded linguistic history. And how we keep track of contexts and adjust our understanding to them is a very big and very interesting question that people in a variety of fields are working on. If we knew how we can do what we do, we'd be a lot closer to full-blown artificial intelligence than we actually are. But the short answer is that words mean what we use them to mean, and how we use them changes and varies in complicated ways.

What is the difference between a "fallacy" and a "cognitive bias"?

How about this? A fallacy is an actual mistake in reasoning. A cognitive bias is a tendency to commit certain sorts of mistakes. Not all fallacies are the result of cognitive biases, and having a cognitive bias doesn't guarantee that you'll commit the corresponding error.

I have asked many regular non-philosopher type folks about how to avoid appearing "rude, crude and stupid" when indicating sexual interest in women. Not many well formed answers are given to me but I am told that a necessary ingredient is subtlety. You should never be direct about your intentions. Is being direct and straightforward really rude? What does saying that you must not be straightforward imply about the nature of those intentions in the first place? What then distinguishes rude from non-rude forms of expressing sexual intention?

It's an interesting question and not easy to answer. Let's start with what may seem to be a minor point but actually isn't. It's not right that we should never be direct. The most obvious exception is when two people already have a sexual relationship and they're both comfortable about it. But even there, being blunt isn't always welcome. Sex isn't one-dimensional. There's lusty animal sex and there's also tender romantic sex. What works for one doesn't necessarily work for the other. If it's complicated even for people who are in a relationship, it's not hard to see why rude and crude doesn't tend to work when that's not so. Human relationships just are complicated; after all, there are completely non-sexual matters that most of us don't like having broached too directly. When we add sex to the mix, things certainly won't get simpler. Leave male vs. female aside for a moment. If someone hints to me that they're interested but the feeling isn't mutual, I can ignore the hint in ways...

I'm not sure is this is a philosophical question or a linguistics question but what's the difference between "agree" and "strongly agree?" In my mind, if you agree with a statement or disagree with it, that's the end of it. I think agree or disagree are absolutes so to add an adverbial quantifier is not necessary. How can you 'agree more' with something after you already agree with it? Or, for example, say we both disagree about something. It's not possible for me to disagree 'more' than you. I see this kind of choice on those psych tests employers like to give to candidates. I don't think I've ever 'passed' one of those tests because of my problem with this choice. So is it just semantics? Please help. Confused in Lakeland, FL

An interesting puzzle. Here's at least one possible explanation. There are some things I agree with, but I can fairly easily imagine changing my mind. In cases, this possibility seems much more remote. For example: suppose my department is deciding between two job candidates, Jimenez and Grabowski. A colleague makes her case for hiring Jimenez. I think about it and say "I agree." And I really do. But the idea that someone might go for Grabowski doesn't seem crazy to me, and I can imagine that a conversation with another colleague might persuade me to re-think. However, we can imagine another case: the choice is between Abel and Zed and it's not just that I believe Abel to be the better candidate; it's that there just seems to me to be no contest: Abel is so clearly better than Zed that there's no room for reasonable disagreement. I don't just agree that we should offer the job to Abel; I strongly agree. The general point is that we believe the things we believe to varying degrees....

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